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Author:Rev. Ted Gray
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Congregation:First United Reformed Church
 Oak Lawn, Illinois
Title:Trained by God's Discipline
Text:Hebrews 12:4-13 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Life in Christ

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

From the 1976 Psalter Hymnal, unless otherwise noted:

19 – The God Who Sits Enthroned on High
121 - O Godto Us Show Mercy
354 (Red) - O To Be Like Thee! Blessed Redeemer    
452 - Have Thine Own Way, Lord
* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Ted Gray, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Pastor Ted Gray
Trained by God’s Discipline”
Hebrews 12:4-13
Most of us who grew up in Christian families know what it is like to be disciplined by our father. The phrase “wait till your father gets home” could strike a note of fear in many of us. But growing up in a Christian family, we also knew the purpose of discipline. Proverbs 22:15 tells us that “folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline will drive it far from him.”
Proverbs 29:15 adds, “The rod of correction imparts wisdom, but a child left to himself disgraces his mother.” Proverbs 13:24 may sound too strong when it says, “He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is careful to discipline him”, but although scorned today and called abusive, it is not too strong. It is not too strong because the sinful nature of Adam, which is ingrained within us from the moment of conception (Psa. 51:5), must be corrected as we seek the sanctification of our children.
We understood, even as children, that discipline was necessary to shape and mold us after the image of Christ. Although we knew discipline was unpleasant, we knew that it was administered out of love and done for our own good. As verse 9 says, “We have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live!” And in this passage the author of Hebrews also quotes from Proverbs to remind us that “the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he chastises every one he accepts as a son” – or daughter.
Perhaps some of you have heard about the two boys who were fighting in the park. A man came along and grabbed one of the boys; he gave him a good whack on the behind. He told him in no uncertain terms to quit fighting. A bystander objected. He said, “Do something to the other kid; he was fighting too.”
But the man who had intervened replied, “That boy is not my son.”
As verse 8 says, If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons.” On the other hand, if by grace, through saving faith in Jesus Christ, you are adopted into the family of God, then you can be sure that you will experience discipline.
God disciplines His children in a variety of ways. One way is through difficult circumstances. Verse 7 begins by telling us to “endure hardship as discipline.” However, not all hardship is discipline. For instance, when the disciples saw a man who had been born blind, they asked Jesus, as recorded in John 9:2, “Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”
Jesus replied, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.”
Although trials are not always part of God’s discipline, they often are. Often the Lord will use hard circumstances in our lives to correct our waywardness, to humble our pride, and to bring a son or daughter closer to their Father in heaven. If you are truly a child of God you can be certain that Deuteronomy 8:5 will apply to you.  In that verse, Moses writes: “Know then in your heart that as a man disciplines his son, so the Lord your God disciplines you.”
Another way that God disciplines us is through the conviction of Scripture. We read about that in Hebrews 4:12: “For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”
If you are a true child of God, you have been cut by the Word of God on many occasions. God's Word reveals our sin to us, but it also reveals our Savior. The conviction of the Word of God, wielded as a double-edged sword by the Holy Spirit, does indeed serve to correct and admonish God's children.
Carved After the Image of Christ
Verse 10 tells us that God disciplines us for our good. As children, most of us grew to understand that our parents also disciplined us for our good. And as parents we, in turn, disciplined our children for their good.  Every Christian father and mother wants their children to be image bearers of Christ. But are our children born that way? And were you and I born that way?
Ephesians 2 describes how by our very nature we deserve – not the loving admonishment of our heavenly Father – but by our very nature we deserve God's righteous and proper wrath against sin. Psalm 51:5 describes how we have been sinful from the moment of our conception, how the original sin of Adam is ingrained in each one of us. Jeremiah 17:9 describes how the human heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked, even to the point that no one can truly know the depth of depravity in the human heart.
Our heavenly Father, seeing these sin problems in us, will correct us with discipline – not as a judge, for Jesus has taken the punishment for our sins on himself on the cross – but as a loving Father.  Because we have that sinful nature of Adam within us, God shapes and molds us through the tool of discipline to conform us more and more to the likeness and holiness of Jesus Christ.
I have a few pocket knives, but I have never been a good carver. I have not honed that skill, but I have always respected and appreciated those who have. My father had a bear carved out of wood. It was exquisite. The bear was on his hind legs, leaning on a long pole that had several fish attached to it. Words cannot do justice to the beauty of that carving.  It was intricate and beautiful, all shaped and formed from one block of wood. Over the course of a long time innumerable cuts were made on that block of wood. It took a lot of carving; it took a lot of shaping. If wood could feel the edge of the knife, it would have cried out in pain! That block of wood would have cried out, “What are you doing to me with that sharp knife? It is so painful! Please, stop!” But a beautiful carving was produced.
And that is what God, as our gracious heavenly Father, does for us. He disciplines us – cuts, shapes and molds us – by the conviction of his Word and the circumstances he allows in our lives so that we share in his holiness. Although in this life our sanctification, and the masterpiece of God’s work within us is incomplete, in the life to come we will experience the perfection and beauty of God’s shaping and molding process. As verse 10 points out, “God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness.”
Although we share in his holiness, our holiness is a holiness of status. We are saved from sin and given eternal life because of the holiness – righteousness – of Jesus Christ. He alone is perfectly holy and righteous, and God the Father graciously credits, or imputes, that perfect holiness and righteousness of his only begotten Son to everyone who believes in him with saving faith. It is the imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ which saves us. That is why our righteousness is sometimes called an “alien righteousness." It is not our own righteousness that saves us; it is the imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ.
But God still calls us to be holy as he is holy. The Lord willing, we will look at that aspect of personal holiness more closely next week, as we read in verse 14 that “without holiness no one will see the Lord.” But this week we see that as he shapes and molds us for our good, he uses the tool of discipline so very effectively. And he uses discipline and the conviction of the Spirit through the Word so that as he sanctifies us, we share in his holiness, not only by imputation but also by conduct.
Charles Bridges, a gifted preacher and theologian in the Church of England centuries ago, pointed out, “(God) will melt you in the furnace so that he can stamp his image upon you.” It is by discipline – the times in the furnace, so to speak – that we are molded closer to the image of the last Adam, Jesus Christ, and further removed from the rebellion of the first Adam with which we were born. As Psalm 119:67 puts it, “Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I obey your word.” And verse 71: “It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees.”
This passage also teaches us that God’s discipline is an integral part of our Christian training. Did you notice the emphasis of training in verse 11? It says, “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.”
There are people who don’t take seriously God’s discipline. As verse 5 points out, they either make light of the Lord’s discipline or they lose heart when they undergo the difficulties of life intended for their good.
My wife and I once had a dog who was part beagle, and the beagle in her caused her to follow her nose, despite the increasing measures of discipline that we gave her. She also seemed to have complete immunity from disciplinary pain. When disciplined, she would wag her tail and keep following her nose in total disobedience of our commands.
There are people like that. They make light of God’s discipline. And because of that, God will continue his discipline upon his people until they respond by recognizing that the troubles of life and the conviction of the Holy Spirit through the Word are an integral part of our training. Matthew Henry points out, “Watch for the first whisper. It will spare many strokes of the rod.”
What most of us found out as children – that if we don't respond to the verbal admonishment of our parents, further discipline would be inevitable – also applies with the Lord. Never make light of his discipline, for if you do, and if you are truly God's child, he will use increasingly strong measures of discipline to change your course and to train you to live a holy, godly life.
Do Not Lose Heart
The opposite of taking God's discipline lightly is to lose heart when disciplined by the Lord. The last part of verse 5 says, “Do not lose heart when he rebukes you. A classic example of losing heart in the face of discipline is seen in the life of Jonah. After witnessing a great revival in Nineveh, Jonah was displeased and became angry. Jonah went up on a hillside east of the city. Because the sun was hot upon his head the Lord provided a vine to give shade to Jonah.
But God, who is able to provide all things, provided a worm which chewed the vine so that it withered. And when the sun arose the next day, God provided a scorching east wind. The sun blazed on Jonah's head so that he grew faint. The Scripture describes how “he wanted to die and said, ‘It would be better for me to die than to live.’”
He was clearly in the wrong, and yet because he was a child of God, the Lord disciplined him. It was for his own good. It was done in order that he might share in God's holiness and rejoice in the great revival in Nineveh. But Jonah lost heart, and in the closing verses of his prophecy it describes how he said to the Lord, “I am angry enough to die.”
Christians are often perplexed by Jonah's response. I admit that I am also perplexed to some degree. But then, isn't it true that we also at times lose heart when we experience God's discipline? Perhaps we are not us vehement as Jonah was, but instead of submitting to the Lord's discipline, as we are called to do, we so quickly lose heart.
Why is that? The main reason why we lose heart is that we look at the instrument of discipline instead of looking to the One who lovingly administers the discipline. We look at the circumstance – whether it is sickness, the death of a loved one, the loss of a job, or any other hard circumstance – without seeing the hand of the One who allows the circumstance, without seeing that the discipline is done in love, and it is administered for our good so that we share in God's holiness.
I knew a person who needed a prescription. The prescription had some strong side effects, but the medication was crucial. At the pharmacy the pharmacist weighed out every part of that prescription. There was not one grain too many or too few. How much more carefully does the Lord weigh out our circumstances? With a fatherly love for his children, he prescribes exactly what we need by way of discipline, even when we may not understand it at the time. In our circumstances he uses the most appropriate time, the most considerate measure, and the most effective instruments to correct us and mold us for our good as we are shaped and molded to Christ and share in his holiness.
A Harvest of Righteousness and Peace
Verse 11 also points out that God's discipline produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those trained by it. Verse 11 amplifies and drives home the point of verse 10, that God's discipline in our lives is for our good. It is by living a righteous, holy life that we find true blessing and true joy. And it is through living a righteous and holy life that we find a peace which surpasses all understanding, even when circumstances are so very hard. In a world that is filled with conflict, trouble and uncertainty it is only the Christian who has true peace. And that peace and righteousness comes to those who are trained by God's loving discipline, who are conformed more and more after the likeness of the last Adam, Jesus Christ.
Because of God's discipline for those whom he loves we are told in verse 12 to strengthen our feeble arms and weak knees. That doesn’t mean that we “pull ourselves up with our bootstraps.” We are unable to strengthen ourselves spiritually apart from God’s enabling work. But as God graciously works in our lives, he gives us the means for strengthening ourselves: his Word and sacraments, prayer, and the fellowship of believers are among the tools God gives to us for spiritual strength. As Paul told the Philippians “…Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.” (Phil. 2:12b-13)
Verse 13 describes another part of strengthening ourselves. The author of Hebrews quotes from Proverbs 4:26 as he writes, “Make level paths for your feet, so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed.”  Most versions of the Bible translate the word “level” with the word “straight.” Make straight paths for your feet.”
It has often been pointed out that as God's children we are not to wander to the right or left but are to steadfastly remain straight and true on the path God has set before us. In Deuteronomy 5:32 we read, “You shall be careful ... to do as the LORD your God has commanded you. You shall not turn aside to the right hand or to the left.”
Likewise, in Joshua 1:7 the Lord commanded Joshua not to turn to the right or the left, but to follow faithfully in the path that God set before him into the promised land of Canaan. As Proverbs 4:25-26 instruct us, “Let your eyes look directly forward, and your gaze be straight before you. Ponder the path of your feet; then all your ways will be sure.”
It is when we leave the path of obedience to God’s Word that we ensnare ourselves in trouble, hardship, and sorrow. And it is only through a proper response to God’s discipline that we receive a harvest of righteousness and peace. It is with great accuracy that the Heidelberg Catechism points out that we only know the comfort of belonging to our faithful Lord and Savior when we recognize three crucial realizations: “First how great my sin and misery are; second, how I am set free from all my sins and misery; third, how I am to thank God for such deliverance.” (Lord’s Day 1, Q. 2)
We are delivered only through saving faith in Jesus Christ. The only way of salvation is his holiness and righteousness imputed to us through God's gift of saving faith for, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).  But when, by God’s grace and Spirit’s power, we are imputed with the righteousness and holiness of Christ, then God does indeed discipline us for our own good, that we may share in his holiness.
Most of us who grew up in Christian families know what it is like to be disciplined by our father. The phrase “wait till your father gets home” could strike a note of fear in many of us, even though we knew that the discipline was motivated by love and administered for our own good.
But don’t look to the Lord’s discipline in fear. Don’t lose heart. And don’t stray from the narrow path that leads to life. As Jesus said, in Mathew 7:13 and 14, “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.”
Instead of wandering from the road of life, may you and I submit to the Lord’s discipline and seek to be trained by it, that we may be shaped more and more after Christ, sharing in his holiness and seeking to walk in his paths. Amen.
Bulletin outline:
              “My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline,
                     and do not lose heart when He rebukes you,
                  because the Lord disciplines those He loves,
                     and He chastens everyone He accepts as His son.”
                                                                            Hebrews 12:5b-6
                              “Trained by God’s Discipline”
                                           Hebrews 12:4-13
I.  God disciplines us through hardships (7) and by His Word (Hebrews
     4:12), but rather than being discouraged we are to be encouraged, for:
     1) Discipline reminds us of God’s love for His children (5-9)
     2) We are disciplined for our good, so that we share in God’s holiness
          as we are conformed to Christ (10)
     3) God’s discipline is an integral part of our Christian training (11)
II. Our response:
     1) We are to submit to God’s discipline (9b) not making light of it, nor
          losing heart over it (5)
     2) We are to be thankful that God’s discipline produces a harvest of
          righteousness and peace for those trained by it (11)
     3) We are to strengthen ourselves (12), as God works within us
          (Philippians 2:12-13), and we are to walk on level – straight –
          paths (13)


* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Ted Gray, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2016, Rev. Ted Gray

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